Humidifier

by J. B. Hogan

Part 1 and part 3
appear in this issue.
part 2 of 3

“That’s dumb,” she said. “Why don’t you lie still? Are you cold?” He nodded. “I’ll get you a blanket,” she said.

“It’s from the Spanish,” he told her when she returned with a light blanket and spread it over him. “They brought all this stuff with them.”

“Forget the Spaniards,” she said. “Rest. Lie there. Be quiet. I have to let the cats out, they’re going crazy in the house.”

She went to the door and opened it. Two cats, both very big, both very black, rushed out. They ran straight for the backyard in hot pursuit of lizards. Stephen heard them sliding across the tile floor but could take little pleasure in their exuberance. He closed his eyes.

“Damn,” he heard Lisa curse sometime later. “How am I supposed to read this stupid thermometer? It’s in centigrade.” Stephen didn’t even realize she had put the instrument in his mouth. But now he could tell she was scribbling something on a pad. “It’s over 100 degrees, I think. Damn it.”

“What?” he mumbled, making a half-hearted attempt to turn towards her.

It was evening already and he knew he hadn’t moved since the early afternoon. He was so sick he no longer wondered about his peculiar new life. If he was living somewhere in the islands and he was married to Lisa — what the hell?

“The heck with it,” Lisa said, pushing away the pad and pencil. She went over to the sink and ran cold water over a washcloth. She brought the cool cloth to Stephen and replaced the one already drying on his hot brow.

“Do you love me?” Stephen impulsively blurted out. “Really love me?”

“Of course I do, silly,” Lisa said. “Why would I worry about you like I do? Why would I have come down here with you?”

“Here?”

“To school, to the islands.”

“Oh.”

“Would you like some water or orange juice?” Lisa asked, pushing Stephen’s hair back off his forehead.

“No,” he said, his voice weak and sounding to him like it came from far inside a cave. “No thanks.”

“You need liquids,” she insisted. “How about a little water?”

“Okay,” he said. He touched her hand with his. She gave him a drink. “Thanks,” he slurred, eyes drooping.

Lisa set the water glass down. She rubbed his forehead and into his hair with the cool cloth. He muttered something else, then seemed to immediately drift off to sleep. She lay down beside him.

For what seemed like hours, even days, Stephen’s condition remained the same. At some point, it seemed that Lisa had managed to get him to a doctor, but the man said nothing could be done. It was La Monga, the doctor told her, everybody gets it here. It hits gringos especially hard, he joked pleasantly, particularly new residents. He recommended bed rest, aspirin, and lots of liquids. Lisa drug Stephen back home and put him to bed again. There was nothing to do but ride it out.

Lying in bed alone, with Lisa elsewhere for the moment, Stephen felt unbelievably hot, the fever burning everywhere within him like hot coals. After awhile he noticed that shadows and shapes on the walls and ceiling had begun to assume wavering patterns. He watched them weave back and forth, take on the shapes of animals, people, demons. They looked down at him, stared at him, mocked him. He was not disturbed by it — it at least took his mind off the pain and fever. Sometime shortly before dawn, at long last, he drifted off to sleep.

* * *

His armor clanked and banged against itself and nearly swamped him in the soft sand of the shallow water but he managed to keep up with the others as they struggled ashore. The Indians on the island ran wildly towards them, then wildly back, throwing warped cane spears and shooting sharpened cane arrows. Mostly the projectiles fell ineffectually on the shore or bounced off the armor, but one arrow had found its mark, piercing the throat of the man next to him who fell to the beach a death gurgle on his lips.

The braver of the Indians charged again only to be shot down by thunderous blunderbusses or sliced to pieces by razor-sharp swords. The battle quickly ended. The Indians were slaughtered. The beach was red with their blood.

He moved through the village then, taking trinkets, searching for gold. Finding a woman. He had her there in her hut, in front of her old mother, on the ground, without taking off his pants.

They worked the rest of the surviving men from sunup to sundown building forts, carrying supplies, raising crops. They were like sullen pets: obedient, hard-working, yours to do with what you would.

He found the woman again. And took her again. As often as he wanted — which was often. He came to live in her hut, with her old mother. And her old mother fed him and gave him fish and meal and a very salty soup that he drank and it had a bitter taste and his head began to hurt and his body to ache and he closed his eyes and lay on the beach and he was hot, so hot, unimaginably hot and then it began to rain.

It rained on him there on the beach and everyone was gone and it kept raining and raining and he was cold and soaked and yet it rained still and he was very wet and very tired. And then he slept and the beach was gone, and the people were gone, and the old woman and the daughter were gone and he was alone, tired, resting, soaked to the bone.

* * *

Stephen woke to sunlight, surprised to find his head clear, but the bedding was soaked completely through and his body was wet and cold, his clammy hair matted against his head like a dirty mop. He tried to find a dry spot to huddle in but couldn’t.

“Lisa,” he called faintly. “Lisa!” He had to call her several times before she stirred.

“What?” she said, entering the bedroom. Her voice was still hoarse from sleep. “You Okay?”

“I think it broke,” he said feebly. “I’m soakin’ wet.”

“Oh, thank God,” she said, helping him sit up. She began pulling off the covers. “You were terrible this time. Here, can you scoot over a little? These things are just drenched.”

“Whew,” he sighed, “I thought I’d had it. I didn’t hardly sleep at all last night.”

“Sounds like a song to me,” Lisa teased, suddenly feeling playful. He essayed a weak smile.

She pulled the wet, musty sheets off the bed and tossed them on the floor. She got another set from the chest of drawers. Stephen lay back on the bare mattress.

“I had the most peculiar dream,” he said.

“What about?” Lisa asked, unfolding a sheet.

“I’m not sure. Something about Spaniards and natives. Conquistador stuff. There was a woman.”

“A woman?”

“Yeah, a beautiful Indian woman. She gave me something that made me sick.”

“Good Lord,” Lisa shook her head, “even when you’re down with the flu. What is it with men, anyway?”

“But it was strange,” Stephen said, “like I was part of all that back then somehow.”

“It was just the fever, honey,” Lisa said, moving Stephen over to smooth out a wrinkle in the sheet.

“Yeah,” Stephen agreed, “the fever.”

“You need to clean up,” Lisa told him. “Are you hungry?”

“No,” he said.

“You haven’t eaten in days.”

“I know.”

“We were worried about you, you know?”

“I know.”

“You scared us to death.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sit up again,” she said, tucking in a sheet.

When she was finished she laid him back down. Except for the wet air and a little chill he felt much better now. Very weak but definitely better, definitely well.

“We’re not like the damn conquistadors, are we, Lisa?” Stephen asked. “I mean invaders and all down here.”

“We’re students,” she laughed.

“Maybe this flu is some sort of initiation or penance for being intruders coming here.”

“Maybe it was just the flu,” she said. “You’ve been out of your head.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“You just need to rest, you’ll be all right.”

“Wish we had a tub,” Stephen said.

“I’ll help you in the shower,” Lisa said.

“Did the cats miss me?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“Sort of.”

“They were checking on you. They sense when you’re really sick, you know?”

“Yeah?”

“Of course,” she said, “you ought to know that by now.”

“I been sick,” he said. She laughed.

“You were really sick,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed.

His legs ached but he felt safe. He was again very sleepy. Lisa went into the bathroom and brought back a large bath towel. She dried his hair, rubbed some warmth into his body and helped him, even as he dozed, get into new underclothes.

“You can take a shower later,” she said, as he drifted back into a restful sleep, “when you’re stronger.”

In seconds he began to drift off. His mouth was partly open and he emitted erratic, snoring-like sounds.

“Some flu,” Lisa said, going out onto the patio to feed the cats. “If this is what you have to do to belong here,” she told herself, thinking of Stephen’s odd dream, “maybe it isn’t worth it. I sure as heck don’t want it. I never invaded anywhere.”

She took a can of cat food off the counter by the refrigerator, opened it and split it in two and put it on two separate dishes. The cats hurried over and ate hungrily, making small sounds in the back of their throats.

Outside it was blue and warming, a typical day in the tropics. Lisa stretched and yawned. She went to the refrigerator and took out a carton of milk. A bowl of cereal sounded pretty good to her right then. Stephen lay inside in the house, safe and sliding into sleep comfortably. She rubbed the back of her neck with her left hand and sighed deeply. They had gotten past this one. La Monga was over.

* * *

Stephen woke knowing that he had been speaking just as he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes slowly, afraid of what he might see or where he might be. He was relieved to see that he was in his apartment and that his fever had broken. He felt tired, more than a little wet and uncomfortable in his rather soggy clothes, but he could tell that he had beaten the flu.

“What strange dreams,” he said out loud.

“You were dreaming?” Lisa’s voice nearly caused Stephen to jump out of his skin.

“My, God,” he said, when he’d recovered from his fright, “you’re still here?”

“Of course,” she said. “I’ve only been here a little while.”

“Really?” Stephen asked. “It’s only been a little while?”

“Maybe a half hour. Do you feel better now?”

“I do, but I’m still really tired.”

“Take another nap,” Lisa said. “Maybe you’ll feel even better then.”

“Maybe I will,” Stephen said, feeling his eyelids getting heavy again. Sleep came fast once more. He let it come. He was too tired to resist.


Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2006 by J. B. Hogan

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